OPERATION VENGEANCE: - Yamamoto Survives!

A mere six A6Ms as an escort for the IJN's top man and his number two is utterly insane once you look back on it.

The other thing that often goes overlooked with regards to Japanese complacency is Yamamoto's aircraft being completely unarmed.

Yes, it's true - his G4M carried no defensive armament whatsoever on that fateful day, and the same probably went for Ugaki’s.

If an additional two or three fully armed G4Ms had accompanied the transports, they could have served as decoys as well as to tighten formation around them for protection.
I’d have to say that I find that assumption probably incorrect. Admiral Ugaki’s own recollection recorded the crew of his aircraft unlimbering their guns and I would feel it highly unlikely that two aircraft had of the same squadron at the same time would likely both have been armed. T
 
You can change the timeline, that doesn't change the character of the man.

This is part of what I meant about mythology, the idea that Yamamoto was this sober realist somehow forced to fight a war he was against when he was one of its principal architects. it's a bit like the 'good Nazi' myth that's grown up around Rommel. Besides a few quotes of dubious provenance there is no reason to suppose he was anything but the die hard zealot his actions suggest he was.
Same man but also there is a consistent context throughout references that he was not part of the rabid nationalistic cliche, and that he was disliked and.distrusted by them. Even the if you don’t agree with the Rommel comparison he still thus represents a pole tor opposition to that element of the Japanese leadership and developing story threads as such.
 
I’d have to say that I find that assumption probably incorrect. Admiral Ugaki’s own recollection recorded the crew of his aircraft unlimbering their guns and I would feel it highly unlikely that two aircraft had of the same squadron at the same time would likely both have been armed. T
Double checked my sources.

You are right; Ugaki’s aircraft was indeed armed, but each weapon carried only one belt or drum of ammo.

As for Yamamoto's aircraft, the report prepared by the team that retrieved his body from the crash site is unequivocal: his plane was not fitted with any defensive armament.

This is consistent with Rex Barber's testimony that he faced absolutely zero return fire from the bomber as he closed in to shoot it down.
 
Double checked my sources.

As for Yamamoto's aircraft, the report prepared by the team that retrieved his body from the crash site is unequivocal: his plane was not fitted with any defensive armament.

This is consistent with Rex Barber's testimony that he faced absolutely zero return fire from the bomber as he closed in to shoot it down.
I'd be interested in your sources if you can detail them or provide a link. Always keen to learn more. Tks T.
 
I'd be interested in your sources if you can detail them or provide a link. Always keen to learn more. Tks T.
'We Killed Yamamoto' by Si Sheppard is my main source and the best book on the subject. The other volume worth reading is Carroll Glines' 'Attack on Yamamoto'.
 
Aftermath
Aftermath

In many ways both sides automatically sought to keep the outcome of Operation Vengeance secret. Initially uncertain of the extent and seriousness of his wounds and fearing the news of Yamamoto's death would act as a major blow to the Japanese public and military morale. Once it was apparent the non-life-threatening nature of his injuries, secrecy was maintained to protect his withdrawal from the forward area of fighting as a protective measure till his return to Truk. From the American perspective it was critical that the mission details had specifically targeted Yamamoto’s aircraft was essential to protect knowledge that the Japanese code had been broken.

Despite strict warnings to maintain secrecy, the aftermath of the operation almost immediately undermined attempts to conceal the targeted attack. As the returning planes neared Guadalcanal, one of the victorious ‘killer’ flight, Lt. Lanphier radioed to the control tower: “That son of a bitch will not be dictating any peace terms in the White House.” Lanphier’s announcement was shocking to others on the mission. Air-to-ground messages were broadcast in the clear, and the Japanese monitored American aviation frequencies. Lanphier’s message left little to the imagination. Bystanders on Guadalcanal, including a young navy officer named John F. Kennedy, watched as Lanphier executed a victory roll over the field before landing. “I got him!” Lanphier crowed to the crowd after climbing out of his cockpit. “I got that son of a bitch. I got Yamamoto.”

Lanphier and other senior pilots of the mission where summoned to meet Mitscher upon landing. When they arrived, an extremely irate Mitscher refused to return their salutes and simply stared at them. When he finally erupted, the usually taciturn Mitscher uncharacteristically lost his cool. As one pilot recalled:
“He started in on a tirade of profanity the like of which I had never heard before. He accused us of everything he could think of from being traitors to our country, in particular targeting Lanphier as to being so stupid that we had no right to wear the American uniform. He said we were horrible examples of pilots of the Army Air Force, that we should be court-martialed, reduced to privates, and jailed for broadcasting in the clear about the Yamamoto mission, despite being cautioned about its secrecy” Though his post war correspondence would reveal he was disturbed about his loss of control, Mitscher nevertheless reduced the recommendation for decorations from the second-highest Valor award, Navy Crosses, to Siver Stars for the pilots involved, and with subsequent knowledge of Yamamoto’s survival only the flight leaders would receive this recognition. Lt Lanphier would subsequently be transferred back to the US assigned to flight training and receive no further promotion, retiring as a Lieutenant at wars end. (2)

Meanwhile, U.S. officials were trying to make it appear as if the attack on Yamamoto had been sheer happenstance. Over the next few weeks, they repeatedly sent P-38s to Balalae to give the impression that the long journey was a regular mission for American fighter patrols. Additionally, American officials made no public statements to suggest they knew that Yamamoto had been targeted. Despite their best-laid plans, officials had forgotten to factor in human nature: people talk.

Despite these attempts the secret spread quickly on Guadalcanal, with mission speculation, soon common knowledge on the island. With the truth was impossible to contain. Chatty pilots became the most serious threat to the code-breaking secret, and after the mission, fliers credited with downing Yamamoto, had talked candidly and freely about the mission, to the extent that on 11 May reporters filed the story with censors for transmission back home. Although not mentioning the breaking of Japanese codes, the story included saying that the U.S. military had known Yamamoto’s itinerary. (3)

The censors could not believe what they read and quickly quashed the story and upon being advised Nimitz immediately ordered Mitscher to “secure and seal in safe” reporters notes and story. and to “initiate immediate corrective measures and take disciplinary action as warranted.” Had the story seen the light of day, the JN-25 code might have quickly become a thing of the past. Not only did his story show that the United States knew of Yamamoto’s death, which Japan had not announced, but also that the Americans had known Yamamoto’s location. Only through such means would they have known his precise schedule; a compromised JN-25 code was the only explanation. It was only with the Japanese announcement of Yamamoto’s unanticipated survival that same day, that the immediate furor over this debacle receded.

The various U.S. intelligence bodies involved were both frustrated and divided over the significance of this failure. Partly this was due to the lack of certainty as to if Japan already knew of the breach and because they wanted to keep the secret longer as an operational tool. When intelligence officials in Great Britain subsequently learnt of the details they were upset by the operation; not having suffered the Pearl Harbor attack themselves, they did not have the same visceral feelings towards Yamamoto and did not think that killing any one admiral was worth the risk to Allied codebreaking abilities against Japan. Indeed, Prime Minister Winston Churchill protested against the decision to go ahead with the operation to Roosevelt.

Despite all these missteps and close calls, the United States’ code-breaking secret was believed to have been held until late in the year, and decoded messages continued to supply targets for American submarines, planes, and ships. “There were temporary setbacks as a result of the Japanese introducing new additives or code books,” would Commander Layton, Nimitz’s chief intelligence officer write, “ we largely believed that there was never a sustained period when we were not able to read communications in the principal JN-25 operational system until the events of Aleutian Campaign, and subsequent wholesale changes that followed.”

On May 21, 1943, just over a month after the mission, Japan announced that Yamamoto had been wounded in “gallant contact with the enemy in a war plane” while “engaged in combat with the enemy.”

Despite this attack and American security failings, it was some time before the actual significance of this attack was to be really recognized by the IJN, largely thanks to re-establishing of a new headquarters staff for Yamamoto at Truk, where he was initially recovering. One of the select appointments was the newly promoted Captain Genda of Kido Butai fame, (himself just recovered from injuries sustained during 1st Midway) as his air operations Officer for the Combined Fleet. It was in his presence that Genda pointed out how the precision of the interception, at that range and with those aircraft, was only feasibly possible due to having broken the supposedly secure JN-25 code.

This supposition fell on fertile ground. Despite continued opposition to recognizing the realities presented by these facts, Yamamoto was rapidly convinced by Genda that indeed this was the case. Aided by earlier indications of the USN deployments in First and Second Midway and increasing suspicion from certain coincidences in the Guadalcanal campaign, unfortunately for the allies, this was to be the incident to ultimately confirm those suspicions. First Midway had been attributed to the loss of the submarine I-79 off Darwin and recovery of its code books. The coincidental employment of the USN forces at Second Midway and subsequent tactical defeat had been masked by the successful Allied night attack on the IJN carriers, which had considerably attributed to the resulting loss masking the intelligence factors involved.

The question remains to many: why didn’t the Japanese follow the clues and realize that their JN-25 code had been compromised sooner? In retrospect, it seems incomprehensible that despite numerous indicators, while the Japanese suspected Yamamoto had been ambushed, they initially never seemed to have seriously considered seriously that the USN be reading their secret codes. That the IJN had up until now largely ignored the increasing implications of events, suggests to a degree that the reason was a form of cultural hubris. Historian Donald A. Davis wrote, the flaw was not solely in the code itself, “but in the arrogant and incredibly naïve Japanese belief that Western minds could not possibly understand the intricacies of their complex language, particularly when it was wrapped in dense codes. Despite all of the clues, hubris had overtaken them, and they were unwilling to accept the logical truth that their code was worthless,” until the necessary evidence was marshalled by Genda. (4)

In Japan and the IJN in particular, Yamamoto's targeting became known as the "Navy A (kō) incident" and though initially the news was met with extreme reluctance, it would nevertheless have a profound effect on the later conduct of the Pacific campaign. Beyond the contribution of Yamamoto himself in the eventual peace negotiations at the end of the war, it would have a distinct impact on operational events during the remainder of 1943 in particular. In the period it took marshal the entirely new coding systems and practices introduced in November 1943, the IJN systematically set out to mount a sweeping and eventually highly significant signals disinformation program at the direction of Yamamoto. Beyond a new almost rabid approach to signals security, going to the extent of even distributing and employing a widespread system of one-time pads prior to the introduction of the new coding regime, the program was to effectively disguise the location of several major fleet elements which would subsequently lead to the last significant operational success for the IJN in the Pacific. That it was largely to conceal the size and location of the forces employed by Yamaguchi and Mikawa in the preliminaries to the Battle of the Aleutians, contributed heavily to the losses suffered by the USN forces involved, and though it marked the end of the middle or attritional phase of the Pacific Campaign, it’s success can be directly attributed to the failure of Operation Vengeance and the survival of Yamamoto.

1.. Note: This is a paraphrase of Admiral Ugaki’s actual account of his survival, dictated on 18 April 1944. The full extract can be found in “The Fading Victory – The Diary of Vice-Admiral Natome Uagki 1941-45 (pp: 352-360) 1991 University of Pittsburgh Press. I portrayed this personal account as Yamamoto’s here, with the transposition of the aircrafts positioning for narrative purposes, quoting the actual crew and passenger names applicable for each aircraft. IRL only three of the 23 personnel on both aircraft, all on the second Betty, would survive. The actual survivors from the second Betty were the Pilot, FPO2/c Hiroshi Hayashi, and passengers Vice-Admiral Matome Ugaki, Chief of Staff, Combined Fleet and Captain Motoharu Kitamura, Chief Paymaster, Combined Fleet. With the aircraft transposition in this narrative, and occupying the same position IRL on Yamamoto’s downed aircraft the narrative survivors are Pilot, Flight Warrant Officer Takeo Kotani, and passengers Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief Combined Fleet and Commander Noburu Fukusaki, Yamamoto's Aide (all died IRL in this attack). ITTL Yamamoto’s aircraft, tail code 323 crashes into the sea some 200m off Moila Point on southern Bougainville. at 8am as occurred to Ugaki’s aircraft (326) IRL.

2. IRL Lt. Lanphier was initially credited with the downing of Yamamoto’s aircraft, though post war analysis in particular of V.Adm. Ugaki’s recollections would largely indicate that the actual victory was most probably to another pilot of the killer flight, Lt Barber. His actions and voice transmissions are as occurred, including details of his verbal statements, despite directions on mission security are a fact.

3. IRL the press did obtain details of Operation Vengeance and it took the intervention of the censor to restrict the release of the information, though it was widely known and discussed in Washington circles despite the security risk. That it was a targeted assassination would only be revealed in 1945 after VJ day.

4. The fact remains that the IJN essentially refused recognise the possibility that their main fleet codes had been broken for the entire Pacific Campaign which was a major operational factor in nearly all US planning considerations throughout the war and greatly simplified the operational considerations facing the USN.


That concludes this POD and will form the lead to the sole major battle introduced ITTL that has no IRL precedent. It's a long way off and I'll probably not run it past the forums until 2025 at the earliest. T
 
2. IRL Lt. Lanphier was initially credited with the downing of Yamamoto’s aircraft, though post war analysis in particular of V.Adm. Ugaki’s recollections would largely indicate that the actual victory was most probably to another pilot of the killer flight, Lt Barber. His actions and voice transmissions are as occurred, including details of his verbal statements, despite directions on mission security are a fact.
The examination of the wreckage of Yamamoto's G4M arguably carried more weight than Ugaki’s diary in determining that Lanphier lied and Barber told the truth. Seeing you hoist Lanphier with his own petard made me smile. He was a bombastic blowhard of a man and the Yamamoto mission was not the first or last time he made things up out of whole cloth.
 
Double checked my sources.

You are right; Ugaki’s aircraft was indeed armed, but each weapon carried only one belt or drum of ammo.

As for Yamamoto's aircraft, the report prepared by the team that retrieved his body from the crash site is unequivocal: his plane was not fitted with any defensive armament.

This is consistent with Rex Barber's testimony that he faced absolutely zero return fire from the bomber as he closed in to shoot it down.
Here again I am left in a cleft stick as you have sources to check and I don't, and I remain skeptical about the 'unarmed' legend that has propagated, but I'd love to see how those sources reached that conclusion just for my own satisfaction. There are a number of reasons for this personal view, but without my own counter sources I realistically haven't a leg to stand on. Firstly, how was this idea propagated, and on what basis has it become 'fact'., particularly as it is readily easily to disparage an enemy in time of war? Barbers own report stated during his attack on the lead Betty; "While doing so, he noted something strange: there was no return fire from the rear gunner." This response was supposedly resolved when the wreck of Yamamoto’s Betty was later investigated by US forces, and raised the idea that "for reasons unknown, the bomber had been stripped of its armaments, including the rear gun." Here is the possible origin of the 'unarmed' theory and supposed explanation for the lack of fire. The thing is that this was months after the event, and the IJA patrols comprehensively searched the airframe and surrounds when located. Note that the tail was still largely intact, and it is highly unlikely that any serving soldier would leave a weapon to possibly be salvaged by locals during this process. Secondly some disparaging remarks, such as "taking the silverware", would be unlikely in the extreme for a frontline visit even by an admiral. Thirdly Yamamoto's aircraft was only carrying four passengers, whilst Ugaki's had five, so I doubt any rationale that the armament was removed to save weight bears scrutiny. Fourthly the crew of the Betty still included three nominated air gunners, are they along purely to serve tea? Next is the staff's own worry of attack on Yamamoto was raised, so if this is a concern are they going to strip the protective armament from his aircraft? Again, I think it's unlikely. Also, the tasking was for to two frontline bombers in time of war from the same squadron, and it would be unlikely that either would be noticeably different in their outfitting. Lastly Barbers report on the attack on the second (Ugaki's) Betty after the attack on the first, does not mention any return fire, though this clearly occurred from his Personal account. But in context from that same account, Yamamoto's aircraft was down virtually in the trees and on fire by the time the gunners in Ugaki's Betty had unlimbered their own weapons. The quoted timeframe for the initial attack in the report was 20 seconds. I would speculate that (again I can't back this up), the reason for the lack of any return fire was far more likely due to surprise and the speed of the initial attack rather than an absence of armament, and that it occurred before there was time for the targeted lead Betty to mount any effective defense. Again, I can't offer anything but supposition to support my gut feel, but it's always easier suggest enemy culpability and highlight supposed failings as a matter of practice in wartime and can't help feeling this attitude helped generate the view. I'd be quite happy if you can actually generate more information to disprove this, but the report I have seen by Lt Tsuyoshi Hamasuna, who recovered the Body does not go into that detail, and yet your statement is that it
retrieved his body from the crash site is unequivocal: his plane was not fitted with any defensive armament.
Yet the report I've seen does not, so I'm interested in seeing the actual transcripts just because they differ.

As for the actual details of the contact beyond Ugaki's personal account the link USAF Review gives a good summary. Read in conjunction with Ugakli it paints a picture of the actual combat. That this review is extremely comprehensive, including reference to Ugaki's account and that of the surviving escorting Zero pilot gives a far more complete view and largely undermines the accuracy and validity of Lanphier's own claims and subsequent statements.

Killing_of_Yamamoto_graphic-1024x663.jpg


Either way I would be happy to see any further information even if it does comprehensively prove me wrong. Tks T
 
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This response was supposedly resolved when the wreck of Yamamoto’s Betty was later investigated by US forces, and raised the idea that "for reasons unknown, the bomber had been stripped of its armaments, including the rear gun." Here is the possible origin of the 'unarmed' theory and supposed explanation for the lack of fire. The thing is that this was months after the event, and the IJA patrols comprehensively searched the airframe and surrounds when located. Note that the tail was still largely intact, and it is highly unlikely that any serving soldier would leave a weapon to possibly be salvaged by locals during this process.
The relevant information does not originate from the US inspection that happened months later.

As mentioned earlier, it comes from Hamasuna and his team, the ones who retrieved Yamamoto's remains.

From Sheppard's book:

"A detachment of the Seventeenth Army under Second Lieutenant Hamasuna, camped close to the native village of Aku, about 18 miles west of Buin, witnessed an aerial dogfight at an extremely low altitude above them early on the morning of April 18. Several hours later, Hamasuna received orders from regimental headquarters: 'A plane carrying top navy brass has crashed. You are to organize a search party and go to look for it. You were watching, so you’ll know roughly where it crashed.'

"Hamasuna selected a sergeant and nine other NCOs and men from his platoon. Two days later, they stumbled upon the wreckage of a Betty bomber. The wings and propellers had survived, but the fuselage had broken just in front of the Rising Sun insignia, and the section extending from there to the cockpit was a burned-out hulk. Significantly in light of Lanphier’s later assertion the bomber’s tail 'was puffing a steady series of shots from the cannon lodged back there,' no defensive armament was found or recovered in or around the downed aircraft."
 
The relevant information does not originate from the US inspection that happened months later.

As mentioned earlier, it comes from Hamasuna and his team, the ones who retrieved Yamamoto's remains.

From Sheppard's book:

"A detachment of the Seventeenth Army under Second Lieutenant Hamasuna, camped close to the native village of Aku, about 18 miles west of Buin, witnessed an aerial dogfight at an extremely low altitude above them early on the morning of April 18. Several hours later, Hamasuna received orders from regimental headquarters: 'A plane carrying top navy brass has crashed. You are to organize a search party and go to look for it. You were watching, so you’ll know roughly where it crashed.'

"Hamasuna selected a sergeant and nine other NCOs and men from his platoon. Two days later, they stumbled upon the wreckage of a Betty bomber. The wings and propellers had survived, but the fuselage had broken just in front of the Rising Sun insignia, and the section extending from there to the cockpit was a burned-out hulk. Significantly in light of Lanphier’s later assertion the bomber’s tail 'was puffing a steady series of shots from the cannon lodged back there,' no defensive armament was found or recovered in or around the downed aircraft."
Again, I'd question the accuracy of that quote and how Sheppard sourced that information as it's an Osprey book 59-page summation in 2020. Lanphier's account, would include his own attack high and from the right, and outside a tail guns arc of fire. Secondly Lt Hamasuna, instigated the search without any contact from a higher command, suspecting that it could have been a US aircraft, and the initial patrol was at the crash site next day, not two days later as stated. That there were two patrols and the second was actually a Navy patrol sent to recover the remains and had the weapons been recovered by the initial patrol, highlights the ambiguities involved? Note this patrol strength was listed as twelve not ten, so more questions. Aircraft loss link. Carroll Gines hardcover book has had some issues reported but I would probably prefer it as a source and would love to see the relevant sections and references.

Search

Immediately after the crash, a group of Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) soldiers led by Lt. Tsuyoshi Hamasuna at Aku observed smoke rising from the jungle. At first, they believed an American aircraft had crashed nearby. Immediately, Lt. Hamasuna led a group of twelve of his soldiers into the jungle to search for the downed aircraft and spent the night in the jungle searching.

On April 19, 1943, the Japanese Army patrol led by Lt. Hamasuna first reached the crash site. Initially, they were unable to identify the aircraft and found no survivors alive. The bodies inside the wreckage were burned and partially cremated by the fire. Other bodies were outside the aircraft wreckage. Quickly they realized the crashed plane was a Japanese Navy Type 1 Bomber (Betty) with passengers including Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

Either way it's all mill to the grist and thanks. T


Recovery of Remains
Next, a Japanese Navy patrol was sent to the crash site to recover the remains of Admiral Yamamoto and the crew. Many English published accounts and references claim Yamamoto died in his seat, from a bullet wound to his chest. This is an imagined myth about how the Admiral died and is not supported by firsthand Japanese accounts.
 
Carroll Gines hardcover book has had some issues reported but I would probably prefer it as a source and would love to see the relevant sections and references.
Page 105 of Gines' book...

"Hamasuna found no machine guns in or around the lead bomber's fuselage; normally three guns were installed. Flight Petty Officer Hiroshi Hayashi, the pilot of
the second bomber, told Suzuki that because his plane would be overweight on the flight to Buin, he left the extra ammunition drums at the base in Rabaul to lighten the load. Consequently, if there was any ammunition on board, there was probably only one ammunition drum for each gun. 'After that [is used up],' Hayashi said, 'only thing we can do is just escape.'"

Hayashi's statement suggests that the commander of the aircraft had absolute discretion regarding what to do about defensive armament and anything else carried on board. It could be that Kotani, unlike Hayashi who opted for a half measure, decided that he needed no guns whatsoever for this mission.

There were actually three Japanese patrols tasked with locating the crash site and any survivors. A Navy patrol led by Yasuji Watanabe was the first to set out, but they failed to reach the crash site. A second Navy patrol whose leader is unnamed also failed. Hamasuna's Army team was third to respond, but first on the scene. That nobody else arrived before Hamasuna did is unequivocal.

Interestingly, there is evidence that Yamamoto might have actually lived for up to 24 hours following the crash.
 
Tks for that. Do you have the actual book as well? I'd actually love to have where the statement was sourced from or see it in full as well. T 👍
 
Greetings All

I thought I’d preface this thread to put my own intent into context. When it comes to narratives of this genre, there are few IRL personalities whose historical scope offers more potential than Isoroku Yamamoto. With his position, personality and role in an ultranationalist Japan of WW2, scenarios that present his survival to act in an endgame Japan facing defeat in the Pacific are frequent, and numerous variations to instigate such a divergence have proliferated. I myself am no different, and find TLs with his survival are compelling and interesting in their potential. Accepting this, the question for me then became, how to best achieve this result for my own AU effort, and integrate it into a believable and realistic narrative. Having dredged through my imagination and considered a wide spectrum of increasingly less palatable options as a writer, (I never quite reached the ‘Kidnapped by space bats from Mars stage), I eventually struck the personal account of his deputy, Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki, who was one of three survivors of the two aircraft shot down IRL. Having read this, I settled on presenting a transposition of aircraft as being the most simplistic and historically apt method for drafting a viable point of divergence ITTL. However miraculous this survival my seem it is based on a historical fact, so I shall run with it.

In conclusion to this preamble, I should also like to strongly recommend reading Admiral Ugaki’s book; “A Fading Victory – The Diary of Admiral Matome Ugaki 1941-45.” Published by the University of Pittsburgh Press 1991. Though his recollections of the shooting down, which I shall paraphrase here, are recorded in April 1944, the writings are a fascinating insight into the mindset and motivations of senior IJN circles of the time. In his role as Chief of Staff of the Combined Fleet it is revealing to the interactions and internal politics implicit with events. Beyond this intimate account, it provides fascinating perspective of command decisions and motivations of a senior IJN figure, who ultimately was to commit suicide by Kamikaze on VJ day. Though alien to modern sensibilities, I strongly recommend it to the student of history and AU buff, simply for this reason, as it provides a window and insight foreign to the perspectives of today.

I hope you enjoy my offering on Yamamoto’s survival. T

PART ONE

CHAPTER XX: Operation Vengeance – Yamamoto survived.

Background

The Battle of Midway checked Japanese momentum, but while the Japanese Navy was still a powerful force, capable of regaining the initiative, the actual impact of events immediately derailed planned offensive contingencies in the central Pacific, such as the thrust towards Fiji and Samoa to cut the American lifeline to Australia. Yamamoto remained as commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet. He had however been deeply perturbed by the presence and effectiveness of Allied forces. As a result, he faced the implications that freedom to conduct of aggressive offensive operations, which had been a feature of IJN plans to this point, no longer existed. With the Midway result also, the Naval General Staff were disinclined to indulge in further gambits, preferring to pursue a more defensive "decisive battle strategy" he had attempted to avoid. Recognizing that the Kido Butai and its premiere aviation assets would need time to recover, he switched the primacy of activity to the South-West theatre of operations to achieve this.

As a consequence of this change, Yamamoto committed Combined Fleet units to a series of small attritional actions across the south and central Pacific in what would later be identified as the Guadalcanal or Solomons campaign. The resulting demands of the reduced forces available would lead to heavy losses to both sides, which the IJN could ill afford over the longer term. Three major efforts to beat the Americans moving on Guadalcanal precipitated a several carrier engagements involving the smaller units available. The Battles of the Eastern Solomons and Santa Cruz Islands in September and October, respectively, and several wild surface engagements in the island chain itself, were undertaken to support Japanese Army efforts. The effort was wasted when the Army failed to achieve its operational objectives. Yamamoto's naval forces won a few victories and inflicted considerable losses and damage to American fleet units in several battles around Guadalcanal which included the Battles of Savo Island, Cape Esperance, and Tassafaronga, but never achieved a decisive fleet action. In particular the loss of the battleships Hiei and Kirishima in November 1942 had reduced his level of support. Within the IJN High Command, particularly amongst the powerful Battleship Lobby, this was seen as a wasteful diversion, and frittering away of key assets essential to Japanese victory in any "decisive battle.”

Following these results, the Japanese sought to delay the Allied operations while they strengthened their forces in the South Pacific. In light of this, the IJN decided to change their strategy in the region and bring in reinforcements for their air assets in the region. The Japanese high command in Tokyo issued orders for a new defensive strategy based upon building a strong perimeter around their base at Rabaul. In order to set the conditions for this strategy, the Japanese planned a strong air offensive focused on the Solomon Islands. The Japanese designated this Operation I Go, extending throughout the first half of April 1943. By briefly boosting the Japanese air force at Rabaul with naval carrier aircraft, almost 350 planes together were employed to countering Allied air power and defenses over several days at various critical locations. It was to become their most substantial aerial assault undertaken in the area with Yamamoto establishing his forward HQ in Rabaul to command the operation. Concluded in mid-April, it was believed that Allied losses were far heavier than they actually were and that the operation had been successful. In the wake of the operation, Yamamoto decided to travel from Rabaul to the Solomons to congratulate his aircrews, and it was this decision that was to lead the US to undertake Operation Vengeance in an attempt to assassinate him.

Operation Vengeance

The mission of U.S. aircraft to specifically to kill Yamamoto, was made possible because of United States Navy intelligence decoded details about Yamamoto's travel itinerary through the Solomon Islands area. On 14 April the U.S. naval intelligence efforts intercepted and decrypted orders alerting affected Japanese units of the tour. The message encoded in the Japanese Naval Cipher JN-25D, was deciphered, and contained time and location details of Yamamoto's itinerary, as well as the number and types of planes that would transport and accompany him on the journey. It revealed that on 18 April Yamamoto would fly with his staff in two medium bombers escorted by six navy fighters, to depart Rabaul and arrive at Balalae airfield in Bougainville at 09:00, local time.

The immediate aftermath of the Battle of Midway, had proved both damaging and divisive for the US Naval Intelligence with the gross misrepresentation of Japanese intentions perceived as a critically damaging failure. In the months after however, the fact that there continued to be accurate and useful into the IJN operational tempo had deeply divided the intelligence community of the USN as to what specifically had caused the Midway failings. However much recent accuracy had been confirmed, the most enduring legacy had been the loss of trust in the signal’s intelligence provided in the Pacific theatre. Despite this, when the issue was raised a mission to attack Yamamoto’s tour, it could reveal that the US had broken Japanese naval codes. The decision to proceed was approved when it was decided the knowledge could be protected as long as the true source of the intelligence remained hidden.

Such was the weight of this decision that President Roosevelt and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox conferred before essentially letting Admiral Nimitz make the final decision. In Pearl Harbor Nimitz first consulted with his deputy Admiral Spruance before authorizing the mission on 17 April. They judged that Japanese morale would be affected by Yamamoto's death and that any replacement would be less capable.

The former CO of USS Hornet at First Midway, Rear Admiral Mitscher, was currently the Air Commander of the Solomons Island and tasked with the execution of the mission, now named Operation Vengeance. Despite the secrecy requirements Mitscher would tell the pilots at the final briefing that the target was Yamamoto, to "provide additional incentive" to the fliers.

To avoid Japanese detection by forces stationed in the Solomons along the straight-line distance of about 400 miles (640 km), the mission entailed an over-water flight south and west of the Solomons. This roundabout approach was plotted to be about 600 miles (970 km). The fighters would, therefore, travel 600 miles out to the target and 400 miles back. The 1,000-mile flight, with extra fuel for combat, was only achievable by P-38G Lightning aircraft, equipped with drop tanks, with the range to intercept, engage and return. Eighteen P-38s were assigned the mission with one flight of four was designated as the "killer" flight, while the remainder were to engage the escort. The mission would be the longest mission flown by land-based fighters up to this point in World War II. The specially fitted P-38s took off from the northern most Kukum Field on Guadalcanal beginning at 07:25 on 18 April, and successfully intercept the target flight as it descended on approach Balalae field on Bougainville at approximately 0900 local time.

EXTRACT: “Wings over the Pacific.” G.N. McDonald, Dovecot Press 1979.

Chapter 27 – “You Take the Lead.”

"For want of a nail" as an often-quoted proverb has existed in numerous variations for centuries, generally reminding that an unimportant act or decision can have grave and sweeping consequences. Rarely this century can this maxim be more aptly applied than to the events which would lead to the survival of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in 1943. The analogy between this survival to play a pivotal role and decisive impact in the eventual surrender of the Japanese Empire in 1945, and a simple expedient decision by two Non-Commissioned Officers at virtually the lowest level of tactical leadership, that would lead to his survival is both profound and striking. That the events leading to this are both well-known and historically verified makes them even more interesting for those who study military history.

The actual minutiae of events are well recorded. With the confirmation of Yamamoto’s itinerary, a movement order was assigned to the to the 705 Kōkūtai (705 Air Group) flying the twin-engine G4M bomber (Allied codename Betty) out of Vunakanau Airfield (often called Rabaul West) some ten miles from Rabaul. Receiving the tasking early on 17 April the Operations Officer assigned two aircraft, tail number 323 (Pilot; Flight Warrant Officer Takeo Kotani) and tail number 326, (Pilot; Flight PO2/c Hiroshi Hayashi) to undertake the mission. The initial tasking order had no passenger details and simply bore time and destination details. The importance of the assigned passengers would only be apparent with the arrival of a staff officer from Rabaul that afternoon to confirm and coordinate the escort details and size of Yamamoto’s senior staff party. Revelation of the importance of this group galvanized the informed parties at this mission briefing (The squadron commander, unit’s Operations Officer, and both aircraft pilots and co-pilots and navigators), to ensure all was in maximum readiness for this mission. At some point in the general discussion that followed FWO Kotani (who was to be one of the three mission survivors) recalled the HQ Staff officer had repeated in passing that despite urgings by local Japanese commanders to cancel the trip for fear of ambush, Yamamoto had insisted for the visit to proceed.

This seeming off the cuff remark would lead to the subsequent events detailed. Later that evening the two Betty pilots FWO Kotani and FPO2/c Hatashi would discuss the mission in their quarters. According to FWO Kotani, FPO Hayashi would present the critical suggestion that to help protect Admiral Yamamoto, whichever aircraft ended up carrying the Admiral should fly in the second or wingman’s position. His rationale to present this was that it was usual for the senior of any formation to be in the lead position or aircraft. In the event of a surprise attack or aerial interception, the leading aircraft would be the most likely initial target, so that when carrying such an important personage as Yamamoto it was logical for him to travel in the trailing aircraft, to allow more time to respond to any threat. As the senior of the pilots, Kotani did not refute this suggestion, and after discussion agreed it was logical, but would confirm his final decision as flight leader in the morning.

On April 18, 1943, before dawn the two Betty’s took off from Vunakanau Airfield flew eastward then landed at Lakunai Airfield (Rabaul East or Rabaul No.1) to pick up the senior staff passengers. With seven crew each FWO Kotani’s aircraft boarded four passengers, (Adm Yamamoto, RAdm Takata (Fleet Surgeon) and two staff officers. The remaining five of the staff party, including Yamamoto’s deputy VAdm Ugaki would board Hatashi’s aircraft. It was at this point as the six escorting Zeroes of the Lakunai based 204 Kōkūtai (204 Air Group) were taking off the FWO would decide and utter the fateful instructions to Hatashi, “You Take the Lead.” Thus at 7:10am local time both bombers took off from Lakunai Airfield escorted by six Zeros, with Hatashi’s aircraft assuming the lead, and Kotani with Admiral Yamamoto aboard, trailing by some 400m to one side. Departing on schedule and flew to the southeast bound for Ballale Airfield where they were scheduled to land at 9:45am. The weather was described as fine with intermittent cumulus clouds. During the flight, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto sat in commander's seat behind and to the right of the two pilots as the highest-ranking officer aboard 323.

At Guadalcanal the American preparations for the ambush proceeded according to plan. By taking off on scheduled for the 315-mile trip, the flight would arrive precisely on time for the planned aerial intercept. Climbing to 6,500 feet (2,000 m), with their fighter escort at their 4 o'clock position and 1,500 feet (460 m) higher, split into two V-formations of three planes. The US P-38 force arrived at the intercept point one minute early, at 09:34, just as the Japanese aircraft descended into view in a light haze. Jettisoning their auxiliary tanks, they began a full power climb to intercept the approaching eight aircraft. The nearest escort fighters dropped their own tanks and dived, but were engaged by the defending flight, allowing the killer flight to engage the rapidly diving Bettys. Engaging the leading aircraft (Hayashi’s with V.Adm. Ugaki aboard) and hitting its left engine, which began to trail heavy black smoke, before rolling violently to the left, and crashing into the jungle. The second bomber— Kotani’s, carrying Admiral Yamamoto – descended low over the water off Moila Point, trying to evade attack. Pursuing It, further attacks damaged the right engine of the Betty, which emitted a white vapor trail, as the crippled bomber descended and crash-landed at high speed from a low level into the water. Miraculously Yamamoto and two others survived the crash and were later rescued.

As one of only three survivors of the 23 passengers and crew aboard the two aircraft Yamamoto would later record his recollections of this day in April 1944. (1)

Narrative from page 352

April 18, 1943, Rabaul, New Britain Island, Nieustralis.

Leaving the billet at 0550 still feeling strange in the newly issued Khaki uniform and upon arriving at the airfield I was quite amused to find how annoyed Ugaki was upon finding that Toibana and Imananka of the staff party had both turned up in Whites. Little we could do about this without delaying departure, so he just had to accept this, as much as it appeared to gall him, to my mild amusement. With our party split I boarded one aircraft with Admiral Takata, Toibana, and Fukusaki. After we emplaned both started to roar and taxied to the end of the runway, then taking out over the harbor. Looking down as we flew past the volcanoes at the mouth of the harbor, we settled into a position trailing Ugaki’s aircraft. Both planes steadily climbed swinging SSE with the weather fine and visibility good. The vision allowing from time-to-time sight of the escorts to the right and Left rear above us. Reaching about 1500m and leveling off, by looking forward I could get occasional of the second plane flying in tandem with us, leading in formation, wing tips slightly above us. It was pleasant flying catching the occasional glimpse of Ugaki and others moving in the first plane. Enjoyed the flight, I settled in to occupying myself in relation the topography below, monitoring our location with the aviation map in hand. Passing down the West side of Bougainville I soon received a brief note passed from the co-pilot, expecting to arrive Balale 0754. Glancing at my watch just 0730 and thought to myself just minutes more to landing.

At this point the plane suddenly started to dive following the first plane and went down to 50m as we all wondered what had happened, asking the skipper an air WO at the passage. Asking what’s the matter, is it a mistake. One of the fighters flying over us had sighted a group of enemy fighters coming and warned the bombers as the first plane lost no time diving to the level of the jungle tree tops, while for the first time the crew took up combat station. Opening the gunports to prepare for firing as it got loud with the wind blowing in. By the time we reached the treetop level air combat was in progress between our escort and the enemy, with four time as many the enemy bore down mercilessly on the two bombers. We made several steep turns of over 90 degrees to avoid them with the skipper tapping the pilot’s shoulder at each charge directing him to turn left or right. We evaded about twice and I turned right to see how Ugaki’s plane was evading. Seeing glimpses of it staggering, just brushing the jungle top with reduced speed and emitting black smoke and flame about 2000m away. I said to myself My God and could think of nothing else as I grabbed the shoulder of Fukusaki. Pointing at the first aircraft, saying look at Ugaki’s plane. This became my parting with him forever. All this happening in only about 20 seconds.

In the meantime, my plane turned again sharply to evade another enemy attack, losing sight of the of the aircraft. I waited impatiently for the aircraft to level to sight it again full of anxiety, though the result seemed apparent. The next glance revealed the plane was no more to be seen only a pillar of black smoke arising from the Jungle. At this point our plane was descending to the coat in the direction of Cape Moila and soon came out over the coast, now skimming very close to the surface. Making a rising half turn and then a P-38 came down upon us at last. Here he comes, our MGs opened fire upon him desperately but did not seem to hit. The enemy closed rapidly using his superior speed and his gunfire caught us splendidly, oncoming bullets seen down both sides of the plane and impacting shaking the airframe from time to time. We were helpless and I thought my end was very near at hand. The impact striking the gunners and then skipper. Preparing for the worst I could not help but stiffen, gripping my sword in hand to die as a samurai, as the impact neared. At his point I was thrown off the seat as the plane crashed with great force into the surface of the sea, and I think I must have gotten my wounds at that moment.

Everything went black and I felt the sea water rushing over my body with fair pressure. I could do absolutely nothing and thought to myself this is the end of Yamamoto. Thinking all was over my mind was a blank and I don’t think I struggled or made any impatient effort, but all was unclear. I don’t think I became unconscious, and I didn’t swallow any water and I suppose this could only have been a few seconds. Right after I gave it all up, all of a sudden it lightened, and when I opened my eyes incredibly, I found myself floating on the sea surface. What a miracle, the fuselage had already disappeared, and the right wing was standing upside down in the sea right behind me. And was still burning fiercely and I could see no others around me. Realizing it was till dangerous to be here I could see I was less than 200m from the beach. Feeling strange all over my body I thought I could still reach the shore, though making my mind up to swim I feared exhausting myself and no longer young. Without my cap I found my right boot had come off, so kicked of my left before slowly swam with breaststroke toward the shore, looking back from time to time and seeing the still burning airplane. I could see no others and thought I was the only survivor. After some 70-80m I saw some floating boxes from the plane and reached to grab it but fount my right hand was not holding my sword and didn’t work, hanging from the wrist, and blood dripping. For the first time I realized my right wrist was broken and transferred the box under my l arm, propelling myself with my legs. Just then I finally noticed one of the crew, peculiarly still with a flying cap firmly affixed, swimming energetically before me, so called weakly, “Hey,” but he did not seem to hear. Hanging off the box I had enough freedom of mind to look around seeing now only the still burning wing with the rest disappeared. Approaching the shore, I could feel the tug of the waves for the first time. Now also I could see four men dressed like soldiers running along the shore who soon reached the crewman ahead, who pointed to me. One of them took his clothes off leisurely got into the water and approached. When about 10m he noticed my aiguillette and shouted to shore with a wild cry ‘He’s a staff officer.” The man who had hitherto approached cautiously suddenly got lively and began to push, causing me to shout, “Wait I’m wounded, push this box,” I told him. And he obeyed. Meanwhile another got into the sea to help.

With both planes ended in tragedies and my capable staff lost, I felt it a tragedy and the need to make contact with a friendly force ASAP, but upon being assisted to shore but couldn’t help but sit on the beach utterly without energy, and rest for a while. The soldiers told me it was only 15 minutes to the barracks, so I eventually stood and started to walk bare foot down a sun scorched beach drenched and no hat, ashamed with the sudden realization that I had lost my sword and supported on each side. Feeling increasingly faint and fatigued in the heat, I was barely alert when we reached a tin roofed barracks in the shade. Laying on the bed I had my sleeved ripped open exposing my arm as I received first aid from an army medical orderly. I told them to telephone a commander at first base force reporting the action and loss of the aircraft while undergoing this. At this point the Chief pilot Kotani also appeared, still in his hat with a long scratch on his head and sent him again to the beach to confirm the wreck of the aircraft and facilitate the search for missing persons. Feeling thirsty, something was bought for me, when at his point my aide Fukusaki arrived, both eyes blindfolded and with a big hole in his throat. Despite my joy at his unexpected survival, thinking him seriously wounded, calling to him from the bed, but he was obviously distressed and downhearted, and I feared he might die if he bled too much.

At this point a damage escort had landed at Buin reporting the attack. And followed by the phone report from Malele pt, had sent the chief surgeon and others on a subchaser upon report of my survival. With his arrival my wounds were found to be four long scratches to the back of the head and bruised a swollen left face and bad bruising on the entire upper right of my body, with abrasions on the back and hip and a compound fracture of the right forearm and sprain. As the base commander made rapid arrangements for my evacuation and promised to search the wreckage site for my sword, and details of the other aircraft. (3)

Immediately after the crash, a group of IJA soldiers led by Lt. Tsuyoshi Hamasuna at Aku had observed smoke rising from the jungle. Believing that possibly an American aircraft had crashed nearby. Lt. Hamasuna immediately led a group of twelve of his soldiers into the jungle to search for the downed aircraft and spent the night in the jungle searching. On April 19, 1943, the patrol reached the crash site of tail-code 326 and realizing it was a Type 1 Bomber (Betty) and found no survivors alive. The bodies in the wreckage were burned and finding other bodies were outside the aircraft wreckage. including Admiral Yamamoto’s deputy Vice-Admiral Ugaki. At the same time an extensive search would be conducted in the location of the submerged remnants of Yamamoto’s aircraft, seeking to recover missing bodies, but also trying to locate Yamamoto’s missing sword. This search would prove unsuccessful, and the missing katana has never been located.

Keeping Yamamoto’s survival a secret, he would be evacuated to Rabaul by aircraft that evening, there undergoing further medical treatment. Upon receiving news of this attack, the Naval High Command would order his withdrawal to the main Naval Facilities at Truk, which would happen on 19 April, with his movements undertaken in the upmost secrecy.

Part Two -The Aftermath to follow soon.
I don't understand why this isn't part of the TL you already started since it continues from the Alternative Midway you wrote about. Yamamoto had already lost the war and was making it worse by throwing his carrier groups into an air offensive in the Solomons that was doomed to failure. In April 1943 Yamamoto and his top aviation leaders expressed their continued confidence in the superiority of the Zero fighter over its Allied opponents. This at a time when the USN & USMC was replacing their F4F-4s with the F6F-3 & F4U-1, and the USAAF had introduced the P-38 Lightning to the South Pacific.

The Zero needed to be replaced or at least receive some major upgrades chiefly a more powerful engine if it was going to stay competitive. Unfortunately for them there was no ready replacement & the IJN didn't want to interrupt production with major design changes. During 1943 there were a number of engines in the 1,500 HP range that the Zero could accommodate without major modifications, but it would've interrupted production during the transition phase.
 
I don't understand why this isn't part of the TL you already started since it continues from the Alternative Midway you wrote about. Yamamoto had already lost the war and was making it worse by throwing his carrier groups into an air offensive in the Solomons that was doomed to failure. In April 1943 Yamamoto and his top aviation leaders expressed their continued confidence in the superiority of the Zero fighter over its Allied opponents. This at a time when the USN & USMC was replacing their F4F-4s with the F6F-3 & F4U-1, and the USAAF had introduced the P-38 Lightning to the South Pacific.

The Zero needed to be replaced or at least receive some major upgrades chiefly a more powerful engine if it was going to stay competitive. Unfortunately for them there was no ready replacement & the IJN didn't want to interrupt production with major design changes. During 1943 there were a number of engines in the 1,500 HP range that the Zero could accommodate without major modifications, but it would've interrupted production during the transition phase.
The purpose here is not for the actual conduct of combat operations, and the chapter is offered as a plausible POD to enable the survival of Yamamoto to act as a key personality in the internal Japanese dynamics in the home islands as defeat looms later. Agree with you about the air losses and the relentless detrimental affect overall of the Guadalcanal and Solomons campaign and won't work to change the overall long-term impact. This chapter was just my idea for plausibly presenting his survival to be included in my later nefarious schemes and machinations! ;)
 
Tks for that. Do you have the actual book as well? I'd actually love to have where the statement was sourced from or see it in full as well. T 👍
A very odd thing to say.

The statement was sourced from Carroll Gines' "Attack on Yamamoto", page 105. Obviously my own copy. I assure you I have transcribed it word for word without altering anything.
 
Well the main difference I can see is that the US will have the chance to put the architect of Pearl Harbor on trial after the war.
Eh... for what, exactly? Wasn't he informed that the Japanese diplomats will present the US Government with a declaration of war shortly before the attack? Therefore he acted in "good faith" and simply did his duty as a member of the armed forces of his country.
 

Garrison

Donor
Eh... for what, exactly? Wasn't he informed that the Japanese diplomats will present the US Government with a declaration of war shortly before the attack? Therefore he acted in "good faith" and simply did his duty as a member of the armed forces of his country.
Well I seriously doubt the US is going to concern itself with such niceties and then there is the conduct of the IJN throughout the war, especially its treatment of POWs.
 
A very odd thing to say.

The statement was sourced from Carroll Gines' "Attack on Yamamoto", page 105. Obviously my own copy. I assure you I have transcribed it word for word without altering anything.
I meant if there is a transcription or record of the full interview to get the personal perspective. It's not just to be factual, it's to have an insight into the individuals' recollections. Same way I enjoyed Ugaki's account, you get a feel for the little parts of the story which humanize it, such as his recollecting how annoyed he was when two of the staff party where still in whites, when the rest went in the newly acquired khaki uniform, it personalizes history for me so that's my interest.,
 
The purpose here is not for the actual conduct of combat operations, and the chapter is offered as a plausible POD to enable the survival of Yamamoto to act as a key personality in the internal Japanese dynamics in the home islands as defeat looms later. Agree with you about the air losses and the relentless detrimental affect overall of the Guadalcanal and Solomons campaign and won't work to change the overall long-term impact. This chapter was just my idea for plausibly presenting his survival to be included in my later nefarious schemes and machinations! ;)
The easy part is saving Yamamoto's life the hard part is his ending the war early. The Naval General Staff was just as suicidal as the Army. They all wanted to go down in flames. They thought it was a loss of face that the fleet still had surviving heavy units while the home islands were being attacked so, the fleet had to make suicide runs. The Kamikaze cult originated in the top leadership of the navy and then the army picked up on the idea. Yamamoto had no new ideas and would be dragged along by the same grim situation that led his successors down the path to mass suicide. Death in defeat was the centerpiece of Japanese warrior culture. One man can't change it even if he wanted to.
 
The easy part is saving Yamamoto's life the hard part is his ending the war early. The Naval General Staff was just as suicidal as the Army. They all wanted to go down in flames. They thought it was a loss of face that the fleet still had surviving heavy units while the home islands were being attacked so, the fleet had to make suicide runs. The Kamikaze cult originated in the top leadership of the navy and then the army picked up on the idea. Yamamoto had no new ideas and would be dragged along by the same grim situation that led his successors down the path to mass suicide. Death in defeat was the centerpiece of Japanese warrior culture. One man can't change it even if he wanted to.
Can't change it, and I agree, after all Ugaki himself committed suicide by Kamikaze on VJ day. The thing is that Yamamoto was charismatic and popular enough figure to polarize some of the peace faction, which was absent IRL as a factor. Will have to massage that and see what others can suggest or come up with something left field. T
 
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